Why is stimming common in people with Autism?

Sensory Overload

The term “stimming” is short for self-stimulatory behavior, sometimes also called “stereotypic” behavior. In a person with autism, stimming usually refers to specific behaviors such as flapping, rocking, spinning, or repetition of words and phrases.

Stimming is nearly always a symptom of Autism, but it is also worth noting that swimming is also a part of lots of people’s behaviour patterns.

If you’ve ever twisted your hair, tapped your pencil, bitten your nails or paced, you’ve engaged in stimming.

The biggest differences between autistic and general stimming are the quantity and choice of stim. While it may be acceptable to bite your nails, for example, it’s considered unacceptable to wander around flapping your hands.

There’s really no good reason why flapping your hands should be less acceptable than nail biting, as it’s certainly more hygienic! But hand flappers receive negative attention while nail biters are tolerated.

Like anyone else, people with autism stim to help themselves manage anxiety, fear, anger, and other negative emotions. People with autism may stim to help themselves handle overwhelming sensory input such as too much noise, light or heat.

Unlike most people, those with autism may also self-stimulate constantly, and stimming may stand between them and their ability to interact with others or take part in ordinary activities.

At times stimming can be useful and will almost certainly help a person with autism to manage challenging situations. If it becomes too much of a physical distraction though or causes harm to the person or others it should be modified.

Modifying stims can be tricky, but several approaches have proved to be helpful. Applied Behaviour Analysis (Find out more about ABA by clicking here) and occupational therapy  are sometimes used to help modify stimms and in some cases medication is used to lessen stimms by addressing anxiety and stress levels.

Find out more about stimming by visiting the Ambitious About Autism Website>


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